President Trump accused the FBI on Friday of failing to prevent sensitive leaks to the media, as the administration beats back news that White House officials asked the agency to knock down reports about alleged contact between the Trump campaign and Russia last year.
“The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time. They can’t even ……find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.
A CNN report said the FBI denounced a White House request to publicly reject reports about communications between Mr. Trump’s associates and certain Russians known to U.S. intelligence during the campaign.
There are restrictions on contact between the White and FBI during active investigations.
For its part, the administration said it made its request because the FBI indicated that reports were not accurate.
“We didn’t try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told CNN.
Senior administration officials pushed back strenuously on the reports Friday morning in a briefing for reporters.
The officials said Mr. Priebus spoke to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for about five minutes after an unrelated White House meeting on Feb. 15.
According to these anonymous officials, Mr. McCabe told Mr. Priebus, “I want you to know the story in New York Times [about the FBI investigating contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence operatives] is B.S.”
Mr. Priebus, according to these officials, asked, “What can we do about this?”
When Mr. McCabe demurred and said he would get back to Mr. Priebus, the president’s chief of staff said he was concerned that he was getting “crushed” by the story. “What am I supposed to do?” he asked.
Later, Mr. McCabe called back and told Mr. Priebus that the FBI could not say anything.
“We’d love to help, but we can’t get into the position of making statements on every story,” he told Mr. Priebus, according to the administration officials.
Mr. Priebus asked if he could cite “senior intelligence officials” as saying there was nothing to The New York Times story, and Mr. McCabe agreed, they said. Later on, FBI Director James B. Comey himself called Mr. Priebus and essentially told him the same thing — the story was “B.S.,” but the agency couldn’t put out a statement.
Mr. Spicer vociferously condemned CNN for inaccurate reporting on the story.
“What you guys have done is indefensible and inaccurate,” he said heatedly of the media.
Mr. Spicer asserted to reporters that asking what can be done when the FBI says a story is “B.S.” was a natural human reaction. If Mr. Priebus had simply walked away, the press secretary said, “How insane would that be?”
Russia has been blamed for email hacks and leaks that harmed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the campaign. The Democratic National Committee and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, were the main targets.
Mr. Trump mentioned Mr. Podesta at a press conference earlier this month, saying the hacking of Mr. Podesta’s emails during the campaign last year wasn’t as serious an offense as the leaking of classified information by U.S. intelligence operatives to undermine Mr. Trump’s presidency.
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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